School in a Book: Geography

There are many ways to reliably embarrass yourself in life. One of them is to reveal your lack of knowledge of the whereabouts of continents, oceans, nations and cities. Of course, one of the easiest ways to commit locations to memory is to visit them, even briefly, so you can associate unique sights and other sensory experiences (even emotion) to a point on a map.


Latitude lines/parallels: Imaginary lines running horizontally around the globe. They are measured in degrees, with the equator at 0° latitude, the north pole at 90° north and the south pole at 90° south.

Longitude lines/meridians: Imaginary lines running vertically around the globe. These meet at both poles. They are measured in degrees, with the prime meridian at 0° longitude (at Earth’s axis), and the farthest extensions at 180° east and 180° west.

Geographic coordinates: The two-number combination that gives a location’s latitude and longitude

Hemisphere: A hemisphere is half the Earth’s surface. The four hemispheres are the Northern and Southern hemispheres, divided by the equator (0° latitude), and the Eastern and Western hemispheres, divided by the prime meridian (0° longitude) and the International Date Line (180°).

Equator: The imaginary line around the center of the earth that we measure as zero degrees latitude. The Sun is directly overhead the equator at noon on the two equinoxes (March and Sept. 20 or 21). The equator divides the globe into the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The equator appears halfway between the North and South poles, at the widest circumference of the globe. It is 24,901.55 miles (40,075.16 km) long.

Prime Meridian: The imaginary line down the center of the earth that we measure as zero degrees longitude (0°). It runs through the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich, England and divides the globe into the Western and Eastern hemispheres. The Earth’s time zones are measured from it.

International Date Line: The imaginary line located at approximately 180° longitude that, by convention, marks the end of one calendar day and the beginning of the next. It bends around countries to avoid date- and time-related confusion.

Tropic of Cancer: The imaginary line located at 23°30′ north of the equator. The Sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer on the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (June 20 or 21). It marks the northernmost point of the tropics, which falls between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

Tropic of Capricorn: The imaginary line located at 23°30′ south. The Sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn on the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere (Dec. 20 or 21). It marks the southernmost point of the tropics.

Arctic Circle: A line of latitude located at 66°30′ north, delineating the Northern Frigid Zone of the Earth.

Antarctic Circle: A line of latitude located at 66°30′ south, delineating the Southern Frigid Zone of the Earth.

Map projections: Distorted representations of the relative locations on Earth that allow for two-dimensional map making.

Mercator projection: The most famous map projection, which shows the far northern and southern areas of Earth as much larger than they are

Pangea: The most recent single, unified “supercontinent” to have preceded the current continental forms on Earth

Types of water bodies:

The six landforms of Earth: Mountains, hills, valleys, plateaus, plains, deserts

The seven continents (in order of size): Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australasia/Oceania. Note that some people consider Asia and Europe as one continent that they refer to as Eurasia. Also note that the Middle East is considered part of Asia and is sometimes referred to as Asia Minor.

The seven oceans: North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Southern Sea, Arctic Ocean

Important seas: The Mediterranean Sea; the Caspian Sea; the Gulf of Mexico

Important rivers: The Nile River (in Egypt); the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (in the Middle East); the Bosphorus and Dardanelles; the Yellow River and the Yangtzse River (in China); the Mississippi River (in the U.S.)

Important lakes: The Great Lakes [more]

Important mountains: Mt. Everest (the highest mountain) [more]Important mountain ranges: The Alps; the Andes; the Rockies; the Alpines; [more]

Important deserts: The Sahara Desert (in Africa); the Gobi Desert (in Mongolia and China); the Mojave Desert (in the U.S.); the Antarctic Desert (in Antarctica); the Arctic Desert (in the Arctic); and the Arabian Desert (in the Middle East)

The five climate zones of Earth: Arctic and antarctic (in the far north and south); north temperate and south temperate; and tropical (the middle of Earth on both sides of the equator)

Important world landmarks:

The four U.S. time zones: PST (Pacific Standard Time); MT (Mountain Time: PST plus one hour); CST (Central Standard Time: PST plus two hours); EST (Eastern Standard Time: PST plus three hours)

The five regions of the U.S.: The West Coast/West, the Southwest, the Midwest, the Southeast and the East Coast/Northeast

The approximate current number of countries in the world: 195

The approximate current population of the world: Eight billion

The three most populous nations: China, India and the United States

The five biggest cities on Earth: Tokyo, Japan; New York, NY; Seoul, South Korea; Mexico City, Mexico; and São Paulo, Brazil. (All have over 20 million people.)

Largest country by area: Russian Federation

Smallest country by area and population: Vatican City

Country with the highest life expectancy: Japan

Country with the highest gross national product (GNP): The United States


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